“Muslim is the sky and Hindu is the crust. But, they fail to realise that only together they can make the earth.”
Nitish, an 11 year old brims with pride as he recites a self-composed poem. Nitish studies in Class 7 in a government-run school. His father sells ginger at Azadpur Sabzi Mandi. He lives with his family in Bharolla, an urban village in Delhi. As one enters Bharolla, the perennial noise in the community puzzles an outsider. A group of children playing with marbles, youngsters smoking and passing comments on passers-by, elders are busy playing cards... familiar village scenes greet you. Nitish lives here in a 100 sft room kitchen, bedroom, all in one with his parents and three siblings.
“My mind is constantly filled with thoughts,” Nitish confesses. “When I am at home, while I am walking to school, playing with friends or even watching TV, I keep observing things around me and thinking about them. Sometimes, I think about the reasons behind people’s quarrels, the plight of farmers in our country and various other things. But I don’t always find a suitable channel to express myself. Poetry gives me that power. I can write on anything and everything.”
Poetry, especially serious, issue-based poetry has always been considered a forte of adults. On September 17 this year, Nitish along with 11 other budding poets from Delhi performed at the National Youth Poetry Slam, Bangalore. The event was graced by Sarah Kay, the poster girl for slam poetry, whose piece “If I should have a daughter” had gone viral. There were scores of college teams from across India, like Hindu College, Jadavpur University, Symbiosis Institute, etc. It was these ‘Goliaths’, so to say, that the 12 ‘Davids’ performed and were greeted with with a standing ovation.
Gaurav Singh, who accompanied these kids to Bangalore, reminisces, “This platform made the children realise the the power they wield as poets. It inspired them to think bigger and understand the issues in depth. These children don’t write to please a certain audience, a trap most adult poets fall into. Their poetry reflects their pure thoughts and oozes innocence. And that is why their poetry received such adulation.”
Gaurav, along with Jigyasa Labroo, have mentored, trained and supported these kids for over a year now. The twosome is founders of ‘Slam Out Loud’, an organisation which works to bring out the voices of kids, mostly from under-privileged communities. Both were ‘Teach For India’ fellows in a government girls school. It was while teaching these kids; they realised the unbound potential poetry has in transforming the lives of kids.
Jigyasa sees poetry as an essential component of our education system. “In our society, classrooms are centered on mastering the skill of memorisation and a never-ending race for marks, ruining the desire to create. But childhood is about expression and emotion, and everything in between dreams and reality. The challenges we face in the real world (globalisation, changed nature of identities, sexism, etc.) are far from what’s taught in schools. Our children are no longer able to empathise, observe or reflect,” she observes.
At Slam Out Loud, poetry is not only seen as a powerful tool of expression, but also as a medium to bring joy and critical thinking in the lives of kids. There is a lot of focus on creating a space for the kids where they can engage in a dialogue with the outside world as well as their inner self. They conduct workshops and events for children of age group nine to 16, where poetry is used as a tool to empower the kids.
Starting from Delhi and covering five states, Slam Out Loud has impacted more than 2,000 children in one year, most of them from impoverished families. Their ‘Jijivisha Fellowship’ is for practicing poets to enter classrooms of government and low-income private schools and introduce the art of poetry.
Serious poetry is perceived as adults’ bailiwick only. But when Chanda recites her composition: “Jo chale gaye wo mere the” about the pain of separation, or Khushboo renders “Aaj kal ka rog hai, log!” one is forced to question the conventional perception about poetry. Chanda recounts: “I saw news on farmer suicides and kept contemplating about how it pains the farmers when they see their crops getting ruined. They can’t do anything about it. This motivated me to write this piece.”
Khushboo drew her inspiration for her poem from her neighbour’s story. “A kinnar (hermaphrodite) was born in my neighbour’s house. The parents were extremely happy and loved the child like anything,” she narrates with a lump in her throat. “But the other family members and neighbours started pestering them. Finally, after a full year, they had to hand over the child to a group of eunuchs. This event shocked me. I kept wondering how most of us take our everyday decisions based on the way society perceives it; rather than examining the decision on the parameter of right and wrong.” Both Chanda and Khushboo are merely 13 years old.
That is the difference Slam Out Loud is making in our society, especially amongst the ‘Wretched of the Earth’, as Franz Fanon put it.